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environmental justice

On the campaign trail, President Obama shared his thoughts about mountaintop removal mining:

We have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal than simply blowing the tops off mountains. We're tearing up the Appalachian Mountains because of our dependence on fossil fuels ... Strip-mining is an environmental disaster ... What I want to do is work with experts here in West Virginia to find out what we need to do to protect the waterways here. That's going to be a primary task of the head of my Environmental Protection Agency.

City-dwellers are intimately familiar with the pros and cons of living with neighbors. Their heavy footsteps thunder overhead, their loud music penetrates the walls, and strange odors sometimes drift down the halls. These are nuisances, no doubt, but not all neighborly disturbances are so innocuous.

Consider, for example, communities across the country that live near chemical plants, paper mills and other polluting industries. Air pollution from these industrial neighbors often results in higher rates of asthma and other serious illnesses in local communities.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has fallen far behind in one of its most important responsibilities: to protect the American public from toxic air pollutants. The New York Times recently reported on a new study from the agency's Inspector General which found that the EPA is currently violating federal law by failing to put these protections in place.

In 1970, the Clean Air Act first took aim at toxic air emissions from industrial facilities across the United States. Forty years later, it finally hit a major target.

Actually, 28 major targets. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today agreed to review and update Clean Air Act rules that rein in emissions of nearly 200 hazardous air pollutants released by 28 kinds of industrial facilities.

When Hilton Kelley of Port Arthur, Texas moved back to his hometown more than a decade ago, he didn't realize that he'd spend the ensuing years battling for clean air. And on a muggy Tuesday afternoon, he drove 90 miles west toward Houston to attend yet another EPA hearing to comment on air pollution rules.

Kelley, 49, lives in an area where there are 20 facilities, small and large, continuously pumping chemicals into the air.

Concerned Houston citizen Rosalie Guerrero recently visited a young mother who lives near a facility pumping chemicals in the air. The mother had given birth to a baby with half a brain. The baby suffered for 6 months before dying.

“I’d like to see how much that life costs,” said Rosalie, testifying at a U.S. EPA hearing in Houston on the detrimental effects of living near facilities that emit lead, mercury and cadmium in the air. “There is a cost associated with that.”

Clean air advocates, many sporting "Don't Trash Our Lungs" t-shirts, spoke out yesterday at public hearings in Los Angeles and Houston for much-needed reductions in toxic air pollution. Held by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the hearings focused on recent EPA proposals to cut emissions of hazardous air pollutants like mercury and other toxic metals at nearly 100,000 facilities nationwide.

Juliet once said to Romeo: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Were Juliet as concerned by toxic air pollution as love, the fair Capulet might have instead philosophized: "That which we call hazardous waste by any other name would pollute as much when burned."

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